The national leadership of the Liberal Democrats has stood down its Queensland state executive, accusing them of refusing to pay debts racked up at the federal election at which the party failed to have the former premier Campbell Newman elected to the Senate.
The move has sparked internal turmoil within the libertarian party, with the Queensland leadership group claiming the debt has been contrived by the national executive, whom they alleged had promised a share of tax refunds on political donations to pay the bills, only to renege on the deal.
The row blew up on 17 June when the party’s national president, John Humphreys, wrote to a group of more than 800 financial members in an internal thread – seen by the Guardian – titled “constitutional crisis in QLD”.
In it, he alleged threats from creditors over debts of $20,000 “forced the national executive to suspend the QLD delegated authority” and replace the state executive with an administrator – the party’s former national president Gabe Buckley.
The party’s debts were accrued in its Queensland campaign at last month’s election, at which Newman was vying for a hotly contested Senate seat. Pauline Hanson ended up claiming the spot.
Newman, the former Queensland premier and Brisbane lord mayor who was not part of the state executive, was also outpolled by Legalise Cannabis Australia and Clive Palmer’s United Australia party.
Humphreys and Newman declined to comment on the dispute.
The former Queensland state LDP president, Anthony Bull, ran for the federal seat of Brisbane last month, polling last with 1.66% of the vote.
When contacted about his being stood down from the state leadership, Bull hung up after describing a previous Guardian Australia story about a series of offensive Facebook posts he had written as a “smear piece”.
The power struggle within the party, however, is laid bare in the internal message board.
“I realise that nobody wants to deal with internal drama at this time, but unfortunately there is a problem in Queensland that has now reached crisis point,” Humphreys wrote in the first post in the thread.
In what he described as “the (naive?) hope” that providing “context” for the crisis would prevent “untrue and half true rumours circulating”, the LDP president outlines the reasons for ousting the Queensland leadership.
To “ensure there would be no accidental overspending” in the federal election campaign, the party adopted rules specifically forbidding the state campaign committees from spending money that wasn’t already in their campaign accounts.
All states finished within their budget, Humphreys said in the thread, except for the Queensland campaign committee, which he alleged “broke the rule”.
So as not to “completely bail out” the state nor expose the party to “unacceptable legal and reputational risk”, the LDP’s national leadership allegedly offered the Queensland division a five-year interest-free loan, he said.
But despite warning of legal or “other actions” from creditors, Humphreys alleged Queensland refused to accept the loan and “pay their creditors”.
Ousted Queensland executive member Lloyd Russell hit back immediately on the thread, describing Humphreys’ “context” as a “gross misrepresentation of the facts and potentially defamatory”.
Russell described himself in the posts as “the largest creditor” to the campaign. When asked by the Guardian to elaborate, he said this was confidential.
Further posts by party members supportive of Lloyd alleged he spent a “significant” amount of time travelling with Newman around regional Queensland, where he paid the “many regular small budgeted expenses” arising “out of his own pocket”.
Another ousted state executive member, Richard Davies, alleged in the thread that the “so-called ‘constitutional crisis’” boiled down to an “ethical / legal issue relating to GST input credits on campaign donations”.
Political donations are tax-free, with the GST paid on donations to the LDP being refunded to the party’s national coffers.
Davies alleged that the Queensland campaign had been promised GST credits amounting to more than $59,700 from party leaders and spent accordingly, only for those funds to be withheld.